rosie-and-her-babies.jpgmeezer1.jpgmia-and-her-brother-4wks.jpg“Cats are too independent, they’re aloof and unfriendly. They just don’t make good pets.”

Someone told me that once as the reason they didn’t want to have a cat as a pet.

After observing cats in a multi-cat household for almost 20 years I can tell you they not only love their owners, they form strong family bonds with each other.  It’s a bond based on language.

Too often people equate cat behavior with dog behavior and when the cat doesn’t respond like a dog, they say they’re “independent and unfriendly.”

Well of course cats don’t respond to humans like dogs – they’re NOT DOGS.  Seems like an obvious statement, but I’ve learned it isn’t and when you tell people that who haven’t been around cats much, they’re often completely amazed.

So here’s the scoop on cats.  Whereas in the dog world, everything revolves around the pack and the pack leader, the cat world everything revolves around the mother cat or “the queen.” It’s a good term because she really is.

Kittens are born deaf and blind and from the time they are born, a good mamacat is all about them…and very proud and protective of her litter.

Mamacat, while pregnant will scope out a dark hiding place that’s hard to find and hard to get into and out of. That’s because 1. she has to hide them from predators, 2. she has to hide them from the local tom cat who will kill them to kill off future competition for females, 3. they’re born as helpless as any human baby and need the darkness for their eyes to continue to develop.

It’s during that time the kittens begin to learn who’s mom and who isn’t and they do that by recognizing a unique “language” that the mamacat uses to identify herself to her kittens.  It’s usually a soft mixture of purrs and mews that she will only use with them in combination with breathing or “chuffing” on their foreheads, which contain scent glands (those little bald spots over the eyes on the forehead) to put her scent on them.

Once the kittens ears are open, which happens before the eyes open, they will recognize mom by her call and her scent.

Those early language skills are transferred to humans when kittens are adopted or rescued as an orphan.

For kittens rescued under 8wks old, they will often jab their little faces up into your nose (if they’re naturally affectionate).  When that happens, just breath on them.  They’re getting your scent and tranferring to you or imprinting on you as their new mom.

This is a good technique to use with frightened orphans too scared to move or look at you. Breath on their foreheads and speak softly to them. Eventually, unless they’re feral, you’ll see their whole body relax. It may take a day or two of this on and off, but they should come around.  Soon, they’ll start crying as if to say, “Mom, help!” That’s when you know you’ve won them over.

For 8wks old kittens, say adopted out of a shelter, they’ll just come up and head butt you usually in the face. On their way to independence, they’re acknowledging you as mom.

Throughout their lives, at any age of adoption, cats will always view their new owners as “mom.” This never changes.

Additionally, they learn your “language.” Not English, French or Chinese, but how you pronounce words, the vocal inflections and they associate that with certain objects, etc.  So that how YOU say things, your voice print, becomes their “mother’s language.” 

This whole process can make it hard for some cats when they’re given up for adoption.  Many cats make the transition just fine, but others, like Persians, don’t do well.  Whether it’s generations of inbreeding or what, I don’t know, but I do know that Persians imprint on one owner as a kitten and that’s pretty much it for them for the rest of their lives.

More than any other breed, Persians are extremely sensitive to change of any kind.  When I was in rescue, we always dreaded the call from a Persian owner wanting to give their cat up because we knew they wouldn’t do well in foster care or in a shelter environment.  They couldn’t handle the abrupt change and often would stop eating and die.  If they  made it into a new home, it was always a difficult adjustment for them.

Part of the reason was they didn’t understand the “language.”

For a cat, transitioning into a new home is not like it is for a dog where you can just use the same words the previous owner did and they get it.  Cats have to start all over again learning how YOU say things.  Some cats handle this just fine, others not so much.

So remember, the next time you ask your cat a question and they answer you like they know exactly what you’re talking about…. they probably do, mom.

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